30 April 2007

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

We are thus confronted with the paradox, the mysterious seeming contradiction that runs through all of Christianity, the fact that one the one hand God does everything and the equally indisputable fact that just as soon as the Holy Spirit has begun His work of rebirth and renewal in us, He requires us, in the might that the Holy Spirit supplies, to participate totally, with all our faculties, qualities and parts in and at every stage of the process by which His Holy Spirit transforms us sinners into holy people. (FC SD II:65; XI, 21) - Arthur Carl Piepkorn, *The Church* pp. 229, 230.

Patristic Quote of the Day

We are then righteous when we confess that we are sinners, and our righteousness depends not upon our own merits, but on the mercy of God, as the Holy Scripture says,"The righteous man accuses himself when he begins to speak," and elsewhere,"Tell your sins that you may be justified." Romans 11:32 "God has shut up all under sin, that He may have mercy upon all." And the highest righteousness of man is this—whatever virtue he may be able to acquire, not to think it his own, but the gift of God. - St. Jerome (Against the Pelagians I:13:A)

28 April 2007

Funeral Homily for Marvin Behrhorst

[Isaiah 40:6-11 / Rev. 7:9-17 / John 10:27-30]

Agnes, Keith and Ginger, Bethany, Dana, and Nick, family and friends of Marvin Behrhorst. How utterly true are the words of today’s first reading: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blow upon it. Surely the people are grass.” The grass withers and the flower fades. Such is the fate of our flesh – we grow old, wither, and die. Such is the price of our sin.

Knowing that such was the case, Alma and Wilhelm rushed their little one into the arms of Jesus eighty three years ago. When he was only a two week old babe on one cold Sunday, the Sunday after Christmas, Pastor Hansen’s hands poured water over his little head in old Saint Paul’s Church as he said: “Marvin Friedrich Heinrich ich taufe dich im Name des Vaters und des Sohnes und des Heiligen Geistes. Amen.” And Alma and Wilhelm smiled. Because they knew, then, that their little one, whose skin at the moment was fresh and unwrinkled, but whose flesh nevertheless was grass that withers and flower that fades, now had a future and a hope that would never, never be taken away from him. He was baptized into Christ. He was given into the arms of the Good Shepherd, and he would live his life and die his death under the promise that all his sins had been forgiven and that he now had a life that never ends.

Jesus spoke of this in today’s Gospel: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me.” You know how utterly faithful Marvin was in hearing the voice of the Savior. His Bible sat upon the table by his recliner and it was used. Well used. Whenever he was physically able, he was in Church to hear His Savior’s voice and to feed on the Holy Sacrament. That’s a beautiful heritage for a man to leave his family: a man who knew what was most important in life and sought to lead by example. He knew that many things were important - just think of his devoted service to fire protection - but he also knew what was most important.

“I’m ready to go” Marvin told me numerous times in the past month. Sometimes with tears in eyes, thinking of what it would mean to leave you: his wife, his faithful companion for so many years; his son, of whom he was so proud, and never missed a chance of telling me so either; his grandchildren and great grandchildren who were his great treasures. But nevertheless, “I’m ready to go.”

If you were to say: “Go where?” He would tell you! “Go to my Savior! Go to the One who went to Calvary’s cross to wipe out the entire debt of my sin together with the sin of the whole world. Go to the One who rose from the grave as the guarantee and proof that all sins have been wiped out and forgiven. Go to the One who lives forevermore and who has promised to take my soul to Himself now and even more, who has promised to raise this body that withers like grass and fades like the flower and make it immortal – like his very own body! A body that will be forever beyond the reach of death and decay. A body in which I can live as His own dear lamb forevermore. Where am I going? I’m going home!”

And that, of course, was the great scene we were privileged to get a glimpse of in the second reading. Do you realize the marvel of that reading? John is given a vision and he sees this great multitude of people beyond number. And they are standing before the throne and before the Lamb, the Lord Jesus, clothed in white and waving palm branches of victory and crying out their unending song. Do you realize that all those centuries ago that St. John saw Marvin? He was standing there next to Wilbur and Alma and Wilhelm, and they were all singing and the joy never ended.

John didn’t realize what he saw and the angel had to tell him: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They’ve washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Baptized! And now they’re before the throne of God and their worship never stops and God shelters them with His presence and provides for their every need. The Lamb in the center is their shepherd and he guides them to springs of living water and God himself wipes away all their tears.”

That’s the great company that Marvin is now apart of, and he left this world knowing that’s where he was headed. Just two days before his death the undying Body and Blood of the Savior went into Marvin’s dying body with the promise of unending life. And he welcomed it and feasted on it as he always did. He knew that the life that was his in the Savior was stronger than death itself. That to die as a little lamb in the Savior’s arms is not to die at all but to pass from this world and its troubles into the very presence of God, there joyfully to await the day of the resurrection.

And you know, each of you, that what I speak right now is God’s truth: there was nothing on his heart dearer than this: that he see you there. You don’t get there by being a good person or trying hard. Marvin wasn’t a good man because he was trying to get to heaven; Marvin was a good man because he knew heaven had been given to him as an undeserved gift of love. You get there by letting the Savior give you the gifts that He died and rose to win for you. You get there by learning to live from and trust your baptism. You get there by hearing the Shepherd’s voice that rings out in His word and by receiving from that Shepherd again and again the holy Supper, trusting the promises He makes you.

Pastor Hansen poured the water and spoke the words over Marvin long ago. Today we celebrate that he lived under the Savior’s mercy until the glorious day that his baptism was fulfilled and he joined the saints and angels before the throne. May God give us all the grace to join him there. Amen.

27 April 2007

The Wizard

Tonight was the first night of Metro East Lutheran High School's spring musical. Our beautiful Bekah was in the lullabye league and she also had a job wearing green in Oz itself. The young people all did a super job, and we were very proud of how "into" her parts Bekah was. I think she's gonna be a natural.

26 April 2007

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

We must not determine the status of our faith on the basis of our feeling of comfort or spiritual joy. -- Martin Chemnitz, Locus on Justification, p. 106

Patristic Quote of the Day

What the law of works enjoins by menace, that the law of faith secures by faith. The one says, "You shall not covet;" Exodus 20:17 the other says, "When I perceived that nobody could be continent, except God gave it to him; and that this was the very point of wisdom, to know whose gift she was; I approached unto the Lord, and I besought Him." Wisdom 8:21 This indeed is the very wisdom which is called piety, in which is worshipped "the Father of lights, from whom is every best giving and perfect gift." James 1:17 This worship, however, consists in the sacrifice of praise and giving of thanks, so that the worshipper of God boasts not in himself, but in Him. 2 Corinthians 10:17 Accordingly, by the law of works, God says to us, Do what I command you; but by the law of faith we say to God, Give me what Thou commandest. - St. Augustine, *On the Spirit and the Letter* chapter 22


that I'm EXCITED or anything, but....


And it sounds heavenly. Absolutely heavenly.


Homily for Jubilate (Easter IV)

[Isaiah 40:25-31 / 1 John 3:1-3 / John 16:16-22]

Waiting. We spend lots of our time doing it. Waiting in lines at the store. Sitting in a waiting room, waiting for the doctor to come out. Waiting for the crunch of the gravel in the drive that lets you know that your teen has made it home safe again and you can finally drift off to real sleep. Waiting for an organ that has been out of commission for five months to sound again. We spend a lot of our time waiting. And we don’t enjoy it one little bit.

Then along comes Isaiah, and he speaks about waiting, but in entirely positive terms. “they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Instead of waiting wearying us, exhausting us, wearing thin our patience and our kindness, the prophet suggests that waiting is invigorating, strengthening, fulfilling. But, of course, he wasn’t referring to just any kind of waiting. He was talking about waiting “for the Lord.”

What does that mean for Christians? Think of our epistle and today’s Holy Gospel. The epistle first. The Apostle John cries out: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” He means it. By our baptism into Jesus, all that is Jesus’ has been given to us. He is the beloved Son of the Father, and when we are baptized into Him, WE are the beloved children of God. His Father becomes our Father. His inheritance becomes ours. Everything that is His, He gives to us, including especially a life that death cannot destroy.

It works that way because He came to take all that was ours on Him. Not only our death, but also our sin, and everything that our sin deserved. He bore it all for us on His cross to gives us all that is His through Baptism in the name of the Blessed Trinity.

But of course, the world knows nothing of this. Sees us as just ordinary people, and it can’t be otherwise. After all, “The reason why the world does not know us (that is, know us as God’s beloved children) is because it didn’t know Him.” But the real problem comes when WE forget and see ourselves that way. When we forget to BE who we really ARE, to ACT in accordance with our high calling.

You see, we ARE God’s children right now. But we’re His waiting children. We’re waiting on the Lord. We’re waiting and looking forward to a glorious moment: that instant when Christ Himself appears, the Parousia or Presence of the Lord, His “coming” that is really much more an unveiling of His hidden presence than a movement from place to place. He “comes” by unveiling the truth that He has always been here, hidden with in the life of His Church, and so His “appearing” is not just His appearing alone: in an instant we will be changed and we shall be like Him – in bodies incorruptible, filled with light, shining with the glory of God. Right now, we walk around cloaked – our glory hidden and unknown by all those around us – but the moment of unveiling will come at His appearing. And we’re eagerly waiting for it.

“And everyone” says St. John “who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” You see, if you’re waiting for that glorious moment when you will be revealed to be a child of the Eternal Father and an heir of the home that He has prepared, you take care to start living that way already. Even without the glorious robes of our future nobility, we seek to live as princes who are dressed as paupers in this world. Just like it was for our Lord. So we want our behavior while we wait to reflect always the hope that is ours in Jesus: the hope of the children’s great unveiling at the Appearing of the Savior when the triumph of love is revealed.

But waiting CAN be painful. “A little while” Jesus says repeatedly in today’s Gospel. Think of the little ones on a journey: “Are we there yet? How much longer?” And the dreaded answer: “A little while.” Grr. Jesus speaks to His apostles the very night before He enters His Passover. He warns them that they will not see him – obviously meaning his death – but then He will see them again and their hearts will rejoice and no one will be able to take their joy away – obviously meaning His resurrection.

But the Church reads these words today not just thinking about the Apostles and the past. For since our Lord’s Ascension, we also live in “the little while” of our Lord. We live waiting for that moment when “He will see us again” The joyful moment of His return, which will be the rebirth of the creation. “See, I make all things new.”

And so we wait, and sometimes in our impatience and fear we cry: “O Lord, how long?” Comes the sweet voice of our Lord: “It’s only a little while.” For when we are going through the very real difficulties, fears, and trials of this age, we need to hold onto that “a little while.” Think of how St. Basil put it: "The complete human existence is only a tiny interval compared with the endless age our hopes rest in." (St. Basil the Great, Letter 140)

Set against the inheritance that Christ has won for us – an eternal inheritance, an eternal life, unending joys and a family reunion that goes on to endless days – compared to this our entire earthly pilgrimage is only “a little while.”

And so we wait. And when the wait grows difficult and we’re tempted to forget what it is that we are waiting for or who we are in the Beloved Son, in His mercy Christ spreads a table before us, feeds us with His very body and blood, forgiving us and reminding us that we are His, His sisters and brothers, His co-heirs, and that all that is His will be ours on that glorious day. It’s how He strengthens us to go on waiting. It’s how He assures us that “the little while” really does have an end – a glorious end beyond all imagining. Indeed, “those who wait for the Lord SHALL renew their strength.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Old News

for many of you, but I meant to announce it the other day:

Former Vicar, Charles Lehmann, has been called by Peace with Christ Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, Colorado to be an assistant pastor, working in the area of youth.

Our former vicar is the published author of a children's book, a guest on Issues, Etc., and - as we remember - an outstanding preacher. No question that Peace of Christ will be blessed by his ministry among them.

Congratulations, Charlie!

25 April 2007

Requiem in Pace

Marvin was taken home tonight. May God grant his soul a place of refreshment, peace and joy in the light of His Savior's face until the glorious day of the resurrection of all flesh. Into his body went the undying body and blood of the Son of God, giving the promise of forgiveness of all sins. He received the Holy Eucharist for the last time in this world on Monday. Both yesterday and today, I prayed with him and his wife the Commendation of the Dying, truly one of the Church's most comforting and beautiful liturgies.

Over his body tonight we sang our alleluias:

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The strife is o'er, the battle done.
Now is the Victor's triumph won.
Now be the song of praise begun.

May God comfort all Marvin's family with the rich promises of His Word!

What a Wild Read!

Blame Juhl. We were talking the other day and he was telling about the von Schenk autobiography *Lively Stone* (edited by C. George Fry and Joel R. Kurz, available from the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau), and he said I had to get it. So I did.

One thing comes clear from reading this work: this fellow was a hoot and half! He'd have been a blast to have as your pastor.

The book has numerous quotable quotes - some of which this blog is not rated to carry! But one that I really like was his definition of what is the Church. He argued this at Fordham University, where he was one of three speakers. The other two were Gustave Wiegel (RC) and Alexander Schmemann (Orthodox). Here's what he said:

"According to St. Paul it is the Eucharistic Community, under the direction of the ordained minister of the church, to manifest the total presence of Christ."

Yes! And he didn't just talk it, he lived it. Truly we stand on the shoulders of giants. I wonder what von Schenk would say to the Synod today? I'm sure he'd still be a mighty preacher of repentance, but wouldn't it give joy to his heart to see the number of parishes that simply live and take for granted what he fought so hard for: the total service of Word and Sacrament. Parish after parish across the Synod has embraced this and discovered the joy of the weekly Eucharist - so much so that a Sunday without the Eucharist seems unthinkable anymore.

True, folks in the Synod thought the guy a kook. But countless others - who actually knew him - respected and loved him. The book is very worth the read. It will invite any pastor to examine the place that leiturgia, missio, and diakonia have in his parish life.

P.S. The shocker in the book was that this towering legend of the liturgical movement in the LCMS could say (same as Piepkorn!) "I see no objection to individual cups" and, referring to the common cup, "the sooner the congregation gets rid of it the better it will be." GASP! GROAN! LAUGH! The man is "unpindownable." He'll shock, anger, delight, and surprise you.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

That Church which is not catholic is not the Church. - Johann Gerhard

Patristic Quote of the Day

The righteousness of God then is without the law, but not manifested without the law; for if it were manifested without the law, how could it be witnessed by the law? That righteousness of God, however, is without the law, which God by the Spirit of grace bestows on the believer without the help of the law,—that is, when not helped by the law. When, indeed, He by the law discovers to a man his weakness, it is in order that by faith he may flee for refuge to His mercy, and be healed. - St. Augustine, *On the Spirit and the Letter* chapter 15

24 April 2007

Artsy Kids

The latest drawing from David and Bekah Boo at the Fine Arts Festival (she's in the middle with the clarinet in her mouth):

St. Mark's Homily

Tomorrow is the day. Here's what I'll be preaching:

Homily for St. Mark’s Day – 2007 [2 Timothy 4:5-18; Mark 16:14-20]

“Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” That bare mention at the end of 2 Timothy, which was at the end of Paul’s life, tells us that the story had a happy ending.

You remember the last mention Paul made of Mark, don’t you? Barnabas had wanted to bring Mark along with them on their revisiting of the Churches and Paul put his foot down flat. No way was he having John Mark accompany them again – cousin of Barnabas or not. You remember why? John Mark had gotten homesick during the first missionary journey and had left Paul and Barnabas. To Paul, and his complete consecration to the mission of spreading the Gospel, this was a matter of gravity. Perhaps he recalled the Lord’s words about those who look back after putting their hand to the plow.

Barnabas, whose name is apt and means “son of encouragement”, was all for the second chance, but Paul was having none of it. Their argument got so bad, recall, that they went separate ways. Barnabas and Mark left Paul to do his own thing.

And yet, in today’s epistle, Paul instructs Timothy to bring to him Mark, Mark who is “useful to me for ministry.”

What happened? We can only guess at the details, but we know with certainty why it transpired. You cannot live in the love of Jesus Christ and harbor resentment. You cannot live in the forgiveness of Christ and refuse to forgive. It’s impossible.

No question that John Mark was wrong to turn back. And I do not doubt that he confessed as much to Paul face to face. But if Paul was going to go on living and serving this Lord of His who had knocked him off his horse on the Damascus road and turned him into the apostle of grace, then grace would have to have the final say in all his relationships too. Forgiveness won over Paul’s heart. How could it be any other way?

And forgiveness is a powerful force. Mark may have turned back once upon a time and abandoned the mission, but in the forgiving love of His Savior he grew ever more bold. It took courage to hang out with Peter those last months and to write down his story of Christ – what we call today the Gospel of Mark – as Peter was condemned and sentenced to death. And it was with both courage and joy that Mark journeyed to Alexandria, and became the bishop of that city, only to be martyred for proclaiming to any and all the good news: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Today’s Gospel)

Far from fleeing the mission, Mark ended his life a mighty witness to the Savior whose blood blotted out the sins of the world and whose resurrection busted a hole right through death. The Church rejoices in his Gospel, his writing down of Peter’s witness. And she rejoices that in Christ, those set at odds with each other, can lay aside their accusations and self-righteousness and rejoice together as fellow recipients at the Table of the mercy of the Crucified, Risen and Reigning Lord, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be all glory and dominion, forever and ever! Amen.

Life in a Parish

As I was pulling out today to go pray the service of commendation of the dying with Marvin, I noticed that Marvin's sister and her husband Ray were at work. The bushes along the front of the church had grown and the last one simply blocked the view of the church sign to anyone approaching from the south. So they pulled up the bush and made it go bye-bye. They were already gone by the time I got back.

What's cool about this? They're not trustees. They had no authorization to do it and needed none. St. Paul's is their parish, their home. And people do things like this all the time around here.

Over the weekend Scott installed a needed outlet in the organ chamber. I've seen Marilyn tending to the flowers along the south wall. Millie decides its time to dejunk the meeting room in the basement. Louis repairs the stairs. Marvin trims the trees. I could go on and on. People are simply comfortable tending to what needs to be tended to. They do it because they love St. Paul's parish and are at home here. It is just one of the endearing aspects of life in this congregation.


Dirges. I recently heard the precious music of our Church referred to this way, and not with any maliciousness, mind you. But it always leaves me speechless.

I will never forget the first time I heard the music of the Lutheran Church - as a teenager sitting through the wondrous services of those days at the Lutheran Church of St. Andrew in Silver Spring, MD. The organist then is now the bishop of the English District: Dave Stechholz.

The music was a huge part of what drew me. I'd never HEARD music like that before. I speak not only of the stunning preludes and postludes - BACH! - but of that unique shading of light and darkness that fills the classic Lutheran chorales. You knew you were singing of nothing frivolous but of the ultimate matters of life and death - and underneath it all ran a current of unmistakable joy.

Dirges? I just don't get it. Nor was it a kind of music that I had to "grow" to love; it was not an acquired taste for me. I heard it and fell in love.

What say you all? I ask in utter bewilderment. I do not understand how anyone experiences our music as dirges!

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Your sins and manifold trespasses ought indeed to make you very sorrowful, but not dejected. Even if they are many, know that more more grace is present with God and much more mercy. If they are great, remember that Christ's merit is greater... This great mercy of God toward men ought not to cause man to sin more, but to love God more and more deeply. - Johann Arndt, *True Christianity* p. 181

Patristic Quote of the Day

(hijacked from this morning's Book of Concord reading)

And for this reason, let no one boast about works, because no one is justified by his deeds. But he who is righteous has righteousness given to him because he was justified from the washing of Baptism. Faith, therefore, is that which frees through the blood of Christ, because he is blessed "whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." - St. Ambrose, Letter to Irenaeus

23 April 2007

Lots of Running

Today has been quite busy and yet full of God's peace. It's always that way when I visit the shutins. They have so much to teach us about waiting upon the Lord.

Matins + Breakfast + Email & Blog + Opening at School and Catechism Class + Communion to Marvin and Elva + Bible Study for Wednesday night + Lunch + Walked two miles + Communion to Wilma, Ella, Louis, Ruth, Frederick, visit with Alfred, communion to Joan, visit with Frieda + Vespers & Blog.

Still on the docket for the evening: Supper and Board of Christian life.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

No; we are not to look back to our conversion for assurance, but we must go to our Savior again and again, every day, as though we never had been converted. My former conversion will be of no benefit to me if I become secure. I must return to the mercy-seat every day, otherwise I shall make my former conversion my savior, by relying on it. That would be awful; for in the last analysis it would mean that I make myself my savior. - Walther, *Law and Gospel* p. 207

Patristic Quote of the Day

For there was need to prove to man how corruptly weak he was, so that against his iniquity, the holy law brought him no help towards good, but rather increased than diminished his iniquity; seeing that the law entered, that the offence might abound; that being thus convicted and confounded, he might see not only that he needed a physician, but also God as his helper so to direct his steps that sin should not rule over him, and he might be healed by betaking himself to the help of the divine mercy; and in this way, where sin abounded grace might much more abound,—not through the merit of the sinner, but by the intervention of his Helper. - St. Augustine, *On the Spirit and the Letter* chapter 9

22 April 2007

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Only one thing is necessary to belong to the one flock that saves. A person must listen to the voice of Christ and recognize Him as the only Shepherd of his soul, accepting Him and remaining with Him. Whoever is with Christ is in the true Church, and his salvation stands unshakably firm and certain. - C. F. W. Walther, *God Grant It* pp. 376, 377

Patristic Quote of the Day

This grace, however, of Christ, without which neither infants nor adults can be saved, is not rendered for any merits, but is given gratis, on account of which it is also called grace. "Being justified," says the apostle, "freely through His blood." Romans 3:24 Whence they, who are not liberated through grace, either because they are not yet able to hear, or because they are unwilling to obey; or again because they did not receive, at the time when they were unable on account of youth to hear, that bath of regeneration, which they might have received and through which they might have been saved, are indeed justly condemned; because they are not without sin, either that which they have derived from their birth, or that which they have added from their own misconduct. "For all have sinned"—whether in Adam or in themselves—"and come short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23 - St. Augustine, *On Nature and Grace*

A Bold Request

Each year when it comes round, and we pray the collect for this day (Misericordias Domini), it strikes me as such a bold thing to ask of the Lord: "perpetual gladness and everlasting joy."

What does such a request mean? I think if we remember Psalm 16 (one of the great Easter psalms), we get a huge hint:

"You make known to me the path of life;
*in your presence* there is fullness of joy;
*at your right hand* there are pleasures forevermore."

As the people who have shared in Christ's paschal mystery and so through the grace of Holy Baptism been "rescued from the peril of everlasting death," we ask for unending joy, which is the exact same thing as to ask to live continually in the presence of God and in the place of His favor.

And when you stop and realize that this "bold" request is EXACTLY what the Blessed Trinity wants for us, and that to give it to us such unending joy is why our Lord took on flesh and surrendered that flesh to death, well, the joy starts welling up at the thought of it!

Our great Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for us, knows us and we know Him and He gives us eternal life and we shall never perish and no one shall snatch us out of His hand.

In the confidence of that, we cry together: "Grant to your faithful people, rescued from the peril of everlasting death, perpetual gladness and eternal joys!" Amen and Amen!

21 April 2007

Beautiful Words

Luther, writing to an Augustinian Friar named Spenlein in 1516, cited in Walther's *Law and Gospel* p. 109-110:

I wish to know the condition of your heart, whether you have at last come to loathe your own righteousness and desire to rejoice in the righteousness of Christ and to be of good cheer because of it. For in these days the temptation to presumptuousness is very strong, particularly among those who strive with might and main to be righteous and godly and do not know of the altogether immaculate righteousness of God which is freely given us in Christ.

As a result of this they are searching for something good in themselves until they become confident that they can pass muster before God as people who are properly adorned with virtuous and meritorious deeds, - all of which is impossible.

While you were with us, you held this opinion, or rather this error, just as I did. For my part, I am still wrestling with this error and am not quite rid of it yet.

Therefore, my dear brother, learn Christ - Christ crucified. Learn to sing praises to Him and to despair utterly of your own works. Say to Him: Thou, my Lord Jesus, art my Righteousness; I am Thy sin. Thou hast taken from me what is mine and given me what is Thine. Thou didst become what Thou wert not and madest me to be what I was not. Beware of your ceaseless striving after a righteousness so great that you no longer appear as a sinner in your eyes and do not want to be a sinner.

For Christ dwells only in sinners. He came down from heaven, where He dwelt only with the righteous, for the very purpose of dwelling with sinners also. Ponder this love of His and you will realize the sweetest consolation.

For if we must achieve rest of conscience by our own toil and worry, for what purpose did He die? Therefore you are to find peace in Him by a hearty disdain of yourself and your own works. And now that He has received you, has made your sins His and His righteousness yours, learn also from Him firmly to believe this, as behooves you; for cursed is everyone who does not believe this.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

We cannot confess what is true without rejecting what contradicts it. Kierkegaard observed that truth's quotation marks are polemical. And when here on earth the tragic case occurs, which happens again and again where the question of truth is earnestly engaged, that one confession of faith is set against another, conscience against conscience, then we must leave the decision to Him who in the Last Judgment will finally separate truth from error. We do not know God's judgments, and can and may not anticipate them. Also when we must speak the damnamus ("we condemn") against false teaching, God's forgiving grace may bring the erring sinner into the church triumphant, where there is no more untruth. On the other hand, this door may be shut to many a one who has done battle for the truth in perfect orthodoxy, but has forgotten that he too was only a poor sinner who lives only by forgiving grace. - Hermann Sasse, *We Confess: The Church* pp. 57,58

Patristic Quote of the Day

For if he said this about the law, which only the nation of the Jews received, how much more justly may it be said of the law of nature, which the whole human race has received, "If righteousness come by nature, then Christ died in vain." If, however, Christ did not die in vain, then human nature cannot by any means be justified and redeemed from God's most righteous wrath—in a word, from punishment—except by faith and the sacrament of the blood of Christ. - St. Augustine, *On Nature and Grace* Chapter 2

20 April 2007

Homily for Good Shepherd Sunday - 2007

[Today's homily is the result of what Pastor Randy Asburry and I call a tag-team effort between the two of us. Texts: Ezekiel 34:11-16; 1 Peter 2:21-25; John 10:11-16]

Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Our Christian faith is founded not on seeing, but on hearing. Remember what Jesus told Thomas last week: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29). We can also remember what St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Why is this? Because our faith receives and holds on to things eternal. The Apostle Paul says it this way: “The things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). That’s how it goes with all the articles of the Christian Creed.

No one could use their normal, physical sight to see that the Son of Mary was also the Eternal Son of God, begotten of His Father from eternity. Rather, we learn and believe that Jesus is the Son of God, not by sight, but by hearing His Word. No one could use their normal, physical sight to see that the Man hanging dead on the tree of the cross was not just another victim of ancient Rome’s harsh system of justice and execution. No one could use their normal, physical sight to see that this beaten, bloody Man was also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Instead, we learn and believe what Jesus has done, not by sight, but by hearing His Word.

And, dear friends, it’s no different when we come to the Third Article of the Creed. Here we confess: “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Notice that we do not say, “I see one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” No, we can not use our normal, physical sight to see the Church. Even the Church is an object of faith that comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

In fact, if you rely on your eyes, your normal, physical sight, to see the Church as she appears today – which is not much different than the way she has always appeared – you will be sorely disappointed. What you see will be a train-wreck and a disaster: a church fractured in the name of hundreds of competing denominations, each claiming to have a corner on the market of God’s Truth; a church tainted and sullied by the sins of her priests and pastors, as we have seen so painfully and so often in recent years; a church that too often seems to resemble a loose lady of the night rather than the pure, virgin Bride of Christ, because she lusts for the approval of men rather than the approval of God. I could go on, but I think you get the point. If we go first and foremost by what we see, then we can only see a Church that is neither one, nor holy, nor catholic, or apostolic!

But, again, remember what Jesus said last week: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Remember what He tells us today: “[My sheep] will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one Shepherd.”

I know nothing about sheep – as you know—but I’ve been told that sheep are not stupid; they just cannot see well. Sheep are so short-sighted that they mostly look down to the ground or to the sheep in front of them so that they know which way to go. Sheep must rely on their hearing more than on their sight as they follow their shepherd.

The same holds true for the flock of God called the Church. We can use our eyes only to a certain extent, but we are very short-sighted. Thus we rely on our ears first and foremost to hear our Shepherd and discern His Church. We rely primarily on our ears as we discern the unity of Jesus’ Church. As our Good Shepherd says, “They will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one Shepherd.”

Martin Luther caught the message of this verse. He was asked to prepare a document that would present the Lutheran confession of the Gospel to a council of the Roman Church. His document was named the Smalcald Articles. The Lutheran Church recognizes this as more than Luther’s private opinion; it is her confession of faith too. In the Smalcald Articles Luther addressed the claim of the Roman Church that it and it alone was THE one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Here’s what Luther wrote and what Lutherans after him have confessed:

“We do not agree with them that they are the Church. They are not the Church. Nor will we listen to those things that, under the name of Church, they command or forbid. Thank God, today a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray, “I believe in one holy Christian Church.” This holiness does not come from albs, tonsures, long gowns, and other ceremonies they made up without Holy Scripture, but from God’s Word and true faith” (SA III:XII:1-3).

Wow! Did you hear what our Confession says about the Church? She is not to be identified merely as this denomination or that one. If Rome cannot claim the title of “THE Church,” then neither do we Lutherans presume to claim that. God forbid!

Instead, the Church is holy believers, the little sheep who hear the voice of their Good Shepherd. They hear and follow the voice that says to them: “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” They hear the voice of Jesus when He says, “I laid down My life for you so that you might belong to me forever. I washed you from your sin in the still and living water of Baptism. I lead you to the green pastures of My forgiveness, where you can lie down and rest in My tender mercy spoken to you. I also spread a Table before you in the presence of your enemies. Here in My presence, My cup of life and salvation, goodness and mercy overflows for you.”

Here’s where you will find the oneness and the holiness of Jesus’ Church. She is holy because in Baptism our Good Shepherd has washed away her sin. She is holy because our Good Shepherd continually speaks His forgiveness in words of Absolution that wipe away guilt and shame. She is holy because our Good Shepherd removes from her the garments stained by sins and doubts and unbelief and puts on her the robe of His righteousness, the righteousness that comes from His Body and Blood.

So, don’t look to the stuff you can see to find the holiness of the Church—things like how pastors dress to conduct the Divine Service, or how poor or rich the Church seems to be, or how well the sheep behave. Yes, there are things you can see, and, yes, seeing more unity and holiness would certainly be a great blessing for the Church and the world. However, the true holiness and oneness of the Church come from the Good Shepherd Himself. Good Shepherd Jesus gives His holiness and oneness to His Church, and we receive it by faith that hears the word of Christ.

You see, the Church is one and holy because her Shepherd, Her Good Shepherd, is one – only one Savior who went to the cross, died and rose again to forgive our sins and give us life with Him. He has only one washing by which sins are removed and we are reborn; only one Gospel word to forgive and heal our sin-sick souls; only one Table from which He serves His one meal of Body and Blood to His people for their forgiveness, their life, and their salvation.

So, my fellow sheep, when you are tempted to be discouraged about the Church in general, or even in our congregation in particular, just close your eyes and open your ears. Or you could do as Luther once suggested: take your eyeballs out and put them in your ears!

After all, when you hear the voice of your Good Shepherd Jesus, you are in the Church that is truly one, truly holy, truly catholic, and truly apostolic. Yes, we sheep are short-sighted sinners, but our Good Shepherd’s voice bestows His holiness and His oneness. As Jesus says, “They will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Amen.

18 April 2007

Boring Fitness Stuff - You Have Been Warned

I'm psyched. After Easter's carb pig-out, I went back to Atkin's induction and as of this a.m. weighed in at 153.5. Cindi and I have also been walking outside in the nice weather. We walked early this morning (a tad cold) and I walked again in the sun this afternoon. That makes 8 miles walked this week so far. Yeah! So feeling rather pleased with myself decided to check out those index things. BMI came in at 22. Body fat at 15%. Both EXACTLY where they are supposed to be. So much for the external stuff. The internal as well: total cholesterol is 173 (bad stuff is 76!) and triglycerides at 132. What does this mean? It means: don't believe all that junk they tell you about what Akins will do to you! I know that it's been GREAT for me and for Cindi. Cindi told me this morning that she tried on her wedding dress and it fit just fine. And I am weighing what I weighed when we got married. How many folks at 25 years of marriage can say that? Low-carbing, baby! It's the way to go.

Patristic Quote of the Day

My prayer is but a cold affair, Lord,
because my love burns with so small a flame,
but you who are rich in mercy
will not mete out to them your gifts
according to the dullness of my zeal,
but as your kindness is above all human love,
so let your eagerness to hear
be greater than the feeling in my prayers.
Do this for them and with them, Lord,
so that they may speed according to your will,
and thus ruled and protected by you,
always and everywhere,
may they come at last to glory and eternal rest,
through you who are living and reigning God,
through all ages. Amen.

--St. Anselm of Canterbury, a prayer for friends.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Part of this sacrificial response is the act of faith, the act of committing one's self wholly and absolutely to God's grace in Christ Jesus, the giving up of any dependence upon the works that of righteousness that we have done or can do, the determination to cleave to Him in weal and woe and to regard everything that befalls us as a manifestation of His good and gracious will. Admittedly faith is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should have something to boast about. But even though faith is God's gift and utterly impossible without the Holy Spirit, it remains man's necessary response to God's grace, man's indispensable commitment of himself in freedom to divine mercy. - Arthur Carl Piepkorn, *The Church* p. 227

17 April 2007

Piepkorn on Our Lord's Praying Psalm 22

God is thought of as present when he intervenes and conversely his absence is synonymous with a refusal to intervene. The psalmist asks: "Why dost thou stand afar off, O Lord? Why dost thou hide thyself in times of trouble?" (Ps. 10:1). This insight may help toward a better understanding of Psalm 22 and of the implications of our Lord's quotation of the first verse of the psalm on the cross. "Why hast thou forsaken me?" says the same thing as "Why art thou so far from helping me?" (Ps. 22:1; see also vv. 11, 19; Ps. 38:21; 71:12). Conversely, the wicked do not desire God's presence and say to him: "Depart from us!" (Job 22:17)

--Arthur Carl Piepkorn, *The Church* p. 161.

Reviewing the Challenge

I posted an invitation earlier that this year would be devoted to reading the Book of Concord according to the table for reading in the new Concordia (which differs slightly depending on which edition you are using, but either gets you through the whole year), praying the Psalms for Matins and Vespers for each day, and doing the daily Bible readings. I also suggested that this would be best done in the context of praying Matins and Vespers daily.

The question arises: if you've fallen off the bandwagon, as it were, is it best to try to catch up or just to pick up?

My counsel? Do NOT try to "make up." The goal is to make this a yearly habit. If you missed a given reading this year, maybe next year you'll hit that reading. Just "pick up" where you should be and proceed from there. That way the Office or the reading of the BOC never become the burden that poor Dr. Luther experienced the Daily Office to be where he had to read and read to catch up because other obligations pushed in.

The most challenging thing to me has been making the time for Sunday Matins. Our first Divine Service that day starts at 7:45 and instead of preparing myself for that Divine Service as I might by praying Matins, I end up putzing around, doing this or that, and then ambling over to Church. Now that the most hectic days of the Church year are behind me, I mean to make a concerted effort to remedy that.

Something I'm contemplating adding in to my weekly reading is to to find the passage in Law and Gospel that was read on the day nearest a given Friday and to read through that. I am always so very blessed by Walther's insights, and I remember my pastor telling me before I went off to Concordia Bronxville, that I needed to read this work at least once each year. Sad to say, I have not kept up with that as I should. I thought this might be a fun way to try. Thus, this week, with Friday coming up on April 20th, I want to read through the 25th Evening Lecture that Walther delivered on Apri 24, 1885 (Dau, p. 265ff.)

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Therefore, in order that we might be able to lay hold on Christ more intimately and retain Him more firmly, not only did He Himself assume our nature but He also restored it again for us by distributing His body and blood to us in the Supper, so that by this connection with His humanity, which has been assumed from us and is again communicated back to us, He might draw us into communion and union with the deity itself. - Martin Chemnitz, *The Lord's Supper* p. 188

Patristic Quote of the Day

On consideration, your Majesty, of the reason wherefore men have so far gone astray, or that many—alas!—should follow diverse ways of belief concerning the Son of God, the marvel seems to be, not at all that human knowledge has been baffled in dealing with superhuman things, but that it has not submitted to the authority of the Scriptures. - St. Ambrose, On the Christian Faith, Book IV, Chapter 1

Precious in the Sight of the Lord...

...is the death of His saints. Ps. 116

The beginning

Read it! May God grant Fr. Tews repose in Land of the Living!

16 April 2007

On Christians

I hesitate to blog on this subject, because I am not sure that it will be helpful. But it has sort of illumined for me something that I didn't understand, and it might for others as well. In hopes that it will bring light and not heat, I'll risk it. In a discussion that took place off the Orthodox-Lutheran Dialog list and which was posted on it, an erstwhile Lutheran, currently Orthodox noted:

"Orthodox do not believe this and do not really have a hidden or invisible Church ecclesiology that allows someone to be a true Christian in an untrue Body."

Which, I can only assume, means that he does not see how Lutherans can even BE Christians. It's not a matter of a "purer" faith, but of leaving falsehood and embracing THE faith, to him.

What this helps me understand, I think, is how some Orthodox can seem so danged persistent in pushing their point of view. To them, it is precisely a matter of salvation. Not, of course, that they mean that being Orthodox guarantees salvation; being certain of salvation is as anathema to the Orthodox as it is to the Roman Catholic. That would be, to their ears, the sin of presumption and pride. I've heard at times Lutherans described as "neurotic in their need for assurance."

I write this not to slam the Orthodox. I disagree with them about certainty of salvation, of course, because for the believer there is certainty *in Christ* while there is no security in *self.* The Blessed Apostle John is utterly clear on this: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life." 1 John 5:13 Nevertheless, because when we are treating with each other, it helps to understand where the other person is coming from. If there is a certain urgency in the way that some Orthodox address us, I believe it comes from their conviction that we are not Christians.

It's almost like dealing with the Southern Baptists all over again. It makes me rejoice more than ever in the glory of Walther's Thesis XX in Law and Gospel: "In the sixteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a person's salvation is made to depend on his association with the visible orthodox Church and when salvation is denied to every person who errs in any article of faith." When Lutherans dialog with Orthodox, we tend to begin with the assumption that we are talking to fellow Christians. We need to know that this assumption is not universally shared by those speaking to us.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

You see, this is God's letter sent to us from heaven which teaches us about His essence and will and which points out to us the way to heaven. --Johann Gerhard, speaking about the Sacred Scriptures in *On the Nature of Theology and Scripture* p. 501

Patristic Quote of the Day

Yet the hope that hardly anyone but a single thief dying a cross could entertain is now shared by peoples everywhere on earth, who sign themselves with the very Cross on which He died, in the hope that they may escape eternal death. St. Augustine, *City of God* Book XX


Although we have deserved Your righteous wrath and punishment, yet, we ask You, O most merciful Father, not to remember the sins of our youth nor our many transgressions. Out of Your unspeakable goodness and mercy defend us from all harm and danger to body and soul. Preserve us from false doctrine, from war and bloodshed, from plague and pestilence, from all calamity by fire and water, from hail and tempest, from failure of harvest and from famine, from anguish of heart and despair of Your mercy, and from an evil death. In every time of trouble show Yourself a very present help, the Savior of all, especially to those who believe. - from General Prayer I, LSB Altar Book

Liturgy and Change

Not changing the liturgy, but the liturgy changing us!

Koenker again:

"If one takes the formed prayer of the liturgy seriously, he will find he cannot be the same person his selfish interests suggest he remain. In praying with the church he will find his own spiritual life being deepened and his awareness of the needs of others growing... If we take the teaching on the calling seriously, then the worship of God is not something we do at an appointed hour in a certain kind of building, in a narrow, 'spiritual' sense. Christ came to sanctify all of life by His sacrificial life and death; He came to snatch men from their own self-centeredness, in their worship as well as in their living, and to free them for unselfish love of the neighbor; He came to claim our bodies, too, for divine service. So even the prosaic and commonplace tasks of life have acquired a meaning that stems from the Cross. God uses men in bringing the forgiveness of sins to wife, children, fellow worker, or employer. He uses men in the day-to-day callings of machinist, farmer, or storekeeper." *Worship in Word and Sacrament* pp. 104, 105

15 April 2007

Patristic Quote of the Day

He [Christ] will be all things for all, and every good thing in all good things, ever super-abounding and filling up beyond measure all the perceptions of those who recline at the wedding feasts of Christ the King, the Latter Himself being the One who is uniquely eaten and drunk, and every kind of food and drink and sweetness. - St. Symeon the New Theologian, *On the Mystical Life* p. 129.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Indeed, the just and living God has created men, has redeemed them through His Son, and sanctifies them by His Spirit in order that He may communicate Himself and the highest and best that He has - life, light, wisdom, and righteousness - to them, and that they in turn may be conformed to Him through possession of similar life, light, wisdom, and righteousness, and may celebrate His goodness with reverent minds, thankful voices, and total obedience of life. - David Chytraeus *On Sacrifice* pp. 111, 112

Another Koenker Gem

So the service is a continual twofold conversation between God and man, God being the Giver and man the grateful recipient. Something actually occurs in worship because the promises of God and His gifts are not empty, commemorative signs. They actually bestow what they promise... However, if Old Testament sacrifice entailed giving something of value, a sacrifice of time and energy, then what God wants of us, above all, is the continued offering of this time and energy. Origen already in the ancient church speaks of "the whole life of the saint as one great unbroken prayer." We are not engaged in divine service (Gottesdienst) simply during the brief periods of church service. Worship radiates into all areas of our everyday activity. Each of us has a unique calling in which certain specific things are expected of us. This life entails "the obedience of faith" (Rom 16:26). Service to one's neighbor is just as indissolubly a part of divine service as preaching or singing a hymn, and these elements in no way exclude one another. (p. 100, 101 - Worship in Word and Sacrament)

Low Sunday

What on earth would this day be like without singing together: "O sons and daughters"? The cantor, that was Cindi this morning, sang the even verses and Diane Schrader played the most lovely accompaniment for them. Then the congregation sang the odd verses. I confess, singing that is the high point of the liturgy for me on this day. It's the gospel in song!

During the Great 50 Days, we receive the Eucharist standing and we kneel for nothing. Also after the Divine Services of Easter week, the Alleluia is doubled and the gradual drops out. The Church's Easter joy, far from being diminished, only grows.

This is the first Sunday that we could really enjoy a bit of a "summer Sunday" if you will. Nothing pressing until this evening. I've spent it napping, catching up on some reading (more of Koenker and a Gerhard sermon for next week), and listening to my Holy Week treat to myself: A download of Bach's Mass in B Minor.

How glorious. The more I listen to it, the more I am drawn to it. The explosion of trumpets at the Gloria is a favorite. But also the Sanctus and Hosanna. The Kyrie, of course, is beyond compare. Shoot, the whole thing is as though heaven left a window open and we got to catch the eternal music surrounding the throne of the Lamb.

14 April 2007

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Doesn't the demand for repentance and sanctification sound a sour note, a disturbing lament, in the midst of our Easter hymns of joy and exultation? Wouldn't this be contrary to the prohibition of the first Church against fasting and praying on the knees at Easter? Not at all! Is it sad to be free of sins and to be clothed with everything that pleases God? Certainly not. - C. F. W. Walther, *God Grant It* p. 357

Patristic Quote of the Day

Have no fear, then. Now that the common Savior of all has died on our behalf, we who believe in Christ no longer die, as men died aforetime, in fulfilment of the threat of the law. That condemnation has come to an end; and now that, by the grace of the resurrection, corruption has been banished and done away, we are loosed from our mortal bodies in God's good time for each, so that we may obtain thereby a better resurrection. Like seeds cast into the earth, we do not perish at our dissolution, but like them shall rise again, death having been brought to nought by the grace of the Savior. - St. Athanasius, *On the Incarnation of the Word of God* par. 21

Beyond Proposition

Just finished Koenker's excellent chapter on *The Language of the Liturgy.* Early on in it he notes: "The language employed by the liturgy is directed to the heart, and it addresses the whole man. It is directed to the sources of his will and at the same time introduces his intellect to the Christian perspective on the framework of reality." (p. 84)

His summation of this chapter, though, is what I particularly appreciated:

"However, if modern man will without any prejudice, give the liturgy an opportunity regularly to speak to him, he will find its language communicating to him even today the old message of salvation. Bible and liturgy have actually led millions of people, whether kings or peasants, scientists or mentally defective, to the knowledge, power, and life of the living God. The mechanics of liturgical actions have lapsed into the background, and the worshipper has been led to an intimate relation with God Himself. Even the mein and the movements of the officiant have so supported his words as to lead one into the presence of God. This becomes no 'mystical' experience, but it is a confrontation that haunts, attracts, and binds one to God continually." (p. 92)

How utterly true! I think the Church's liturgy is how she issues the invitation: "O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed are all who take refuge in Him."

13 April 2007

Homily for Quasimodogeniti 2007

And do you like it when someone breathes on you? No, of course you don't. And you know why too. Their breath. It stinks. Even when they've disguised the smell with mint or some such. The fact is that fallen human breath isn't much of an improvement on dog breath. It has the tinge of corruption about it. It smells like it comes from an organism that is decomposing. And of course, it does. In all cases but one.

And so when Jesus that blessed first Easter came and stood among His disciples and breathed upon them, it was like something they'd never experienced before. His breath was like the spring breeze, only sweeter. It was the smell of life, the sweet scent of eternity was upon it, and so, of course, it was alive with the Holy Spirit, the Eternal Spirit of the Living Christ.

"Receive the Holy Spirit" our Lord said, as His breath was breathed out on them one after the other. And they inhaled the breath of a Man who would never die again, in whom there was no corruption, flesh that was truly our flesh (they could still see the marks from the nails and spear!) and yet flesh totally unlike any flesh they had encountered before. In that flesh, He appeared out of nowhere - on the inside of their locked doors. In that flesh, He would just as suddenly vanish. And yet it was real, honest-to-goodness human flesh and blood He bore - and yet the breath! So sweet and so alive! A very wise man once said: "We do not yet know what it is to be a full human being; He alone knows; He alone is."

Breath of the Living Lord, air of the resurrection, sweet breeze from the Age that is to come, the fragrance of undying love, it blows on the disciples. And not just to give them tingles and make their hair stand on end. It blows with Words, with a commission. "As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

The Risen One sends out an embassy of forgiveness. Puts it on the very lips of His disciples. A word of peace that He sends them to speak to people huddling in the darkness in fear. A word of pardon for their betrayals. A word of grace for their ingratitude. A word of life for their embrace of death. A word alive with the Holy Spirit, a word that carries with it the sweet scent of incorruption, of the life of the Age that is to come.

He sends them "as the Father sent" Him. He knows what will become of them. The path of suffering awaited them all; and all but one in that room that day would also follow Him into martyrdom. No big deal when you've had breathed on you Words of life floating on the air of incorruption. You know then that as He lives, you also will live.

Those who reject the words they bring, the embassy of forgiveness, those who cling instead to the stale, dead odor of corruption and death that permeates this age, for them forgiveness is withheld. But for those who accept the words they bring, the embassy of forgiveness, turning from the subtle all-pervading stench of death and breathing deeply His breath of life, for them, the words are words of forgiveness as sure and certain in heaven as on earth.

And the point is that He went and brought this word of forgiveness to them behind their locked doors and in their fears. He came and showed them His body risen, His scars glorified, His life eternal. He said to them: "Peace." Now, as the Father sent me. Sent me not just into the flesh, but sent me to you now where you were hiding in your fear, so I send you to them. To those who are hiding in fear. Adam and Eve lurking behind the trees of the garden, wearing their pitiful fig leaves. To those who are hiding in the fear of their sin - thinking that there's no hope for them, they've just done too much, and they are too awful to be forgiven - to them He sends His sent ones with a message of peace.

Look at the wounds! His sent ones cry. They are for you. There is no sin of yours that He did not answer for upon His cross. Not one. And His risen body shows forever that the sacrifice He once offered was totally pleasing and acceptable to God the Father, who raised Him from the dead. "He was put to death for our sins, but raised again for our justification!"

Look at the wounds! His sent ones cry. They proclaim to you the eternal love that was in the heart of God for you before the ages began. He was willing to embrace your sin and your death in order to swallow them up with His mercy and His life.

And that you might not be in doubt at all, He sends His sent ones forth with a word of forgiveness that is targeted. Not just a general proclamation that there is such a forgiveness, but a personal word spoken personally to sinners who hide in the dark. Even to Thomases who pay the penalty for missing Sunday Church and suffer the weakening of their faith. Just as the Risen One came to Him again in the assembly a week later and spoke a very personal word directly to him moving him from doubt to the bold confession: "My Lord and my God!" - even so He continues to meet His doubting disciples exactly where they are, in all their fear and uncertainties. He still breathes on them a word of forgiveness that carries the Holy Spirit who gives and strengthens faith and enables the confession: "My Lord and my God."

I speak, of course, of the joys of the private absolution. Where Jesus comes behind YOUR locked doors, stands in front of your fear, and brings you a word of forgiveness and life that is anchored in His wounds, guaranteed by His risen body and alive with the undying breath of His Spirit. A word that breaks the shackles of the sin that haunts you and brings you exactly what He said: "Peace!"

And because today is one of those Lord's Days, we rejoice that He is among us right now through His Word and that He will come among us also shortly through His Sacrament. The Risen Christ will yet stand among us and speak peace, and show His wounds and He will touch us with His body and blood, enter us, and renew us so that, as St. John Chrysostom once said, we will come back from His table roaring like lions! For the Lion of Judah, alive forevermore, will have come into us. Our sins forgiven, our life secured. And the breath of our roaring will have on it in the tinge of the resurrection, the sweet smell of a life that never ends. The savor of the Spirit.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

12 April 2007

Look Who's 47!

Yup. Today's the day. Cind is 47 years old. We've been friends for the last 35 years and married for almost 25 of them. Hard to believe in so many ways. Happy birthday, my love! I will never be able to thank God enough for the gift of you - your love, your friendship, your forgiveness...and your COOKING! (Hey, you've come a long way from when we used to skip class in high school to go to your house and you make the only thing you knew how to cook: grilled cheese sandwiches!!!) Oh, and speaking of high school, do you remember when we used to pop the trunk of your car and sit in it, playing the guitar and singing??? For all the music across the years - that's another thing I have to thank God for about you.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

God instituted this sacrament [the Holy Eucharist] chiefly for the sake of the remembrance, and this is the honor that he seeks and demands in it, for in Christ he wants to be acknowledged and regarded as our God. What great honor and glorious worship that is has been said above, namely, that the divine glory is upheld and God is made to be the true God. In return, God will doubtlessly bring that person to divine honor and as a result make him a god and a child of God. - Martin Luther, *Admonition Concerning the Sacrament* AE 38:111.

Patristic Quote of the Day

Our thoughts in this present life should turn on the praise of God, because it is in praising God that we shall rejoice forever in the life to come; and no one can be ready for the next life unless he trains himself for it now. So we praise God during our earthly life, and at the same time make our petitions to him. - St. Augustine, Discourse on the Psalms (*Christian Prayer* p. 2000)

11 April 2007

Old Celtic Quote of the Day

from Pastor Mark Strobel (whom I wish I could hear presenting at Valpo's Liturgical Institute this year). Read with your best Irish accent:

I'd like to give a lake of beer to God.
I'd love the Heavenly
Host to be tippling there
For all eternity.

I'd sit with the men, the women of God
There by the lake of beer.
We'd be drinking good health forever
And every drop would be a prayer.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

As therefore they who by the preaching of the Gospel have come to faith in Christ through Baptism have already gone out from the world and have come into the church of believers and pledged eternal faithfulness to Christ, so these baptized Christians ought again and again to appear at the altar of the Lord to testify that, mindful of their covenant, they have remained faithful disciples of the Crucified, that, accordingly, here is His church. - C. F. W. Walther, cited in Pro Ecclesia V. No. 1, p. 2.

Patristic Quote of the Day

Because there are these two periods of time - the one that now is, beset with the trials and troubles of this life, and the other yet to come, a life of everlasting serenity and joy - we are given two liturgical seasons, one before Easter and the other after. The season before Easter signifies the troubles in which we live here and now, while the the time after Easter which we are celebrating at present signifies the happiness that will be ours in the future. What we commemorate before Easter is what we experience in this life; what we celebrate after Easter points to something we do not yet possess. That is why we keep the first season with fasting and prayer; but now the fast is over and we devote the present season to praise. Such is the meaning of the "Alleluia" we sing. - St. Augustine, Discourse on the Psalms (*Christian Prayer* p. 2001)

NOW it is tetelesthai!

This morning we celebrated the final Matins and Divine Service for this week of Easter. Being a generous sort of guy, I let St. Augustine preach on the nature of alleluia. Good stuff! I'll have to use some of it in the patristic quote for the day. I've enjoyed the services of Holy Week and Easter Week a great deal, but I am looking forward to sleeping in just a wee bit come Friday and Saturday.

Today we had ten folks gather for the Divine Service - again, ranging in age from about six to sixty some. Right before the service today, I had read Koenker's words:

The local congregation joins with the blessed departed of all times and places as the one body of Christ. The decisive event in history has occurred in the person and work of Jesus Christ, through whom the old age has been brought to an end. The preaching and the sacraments of the church always point back to this event. yet the end is set to the life of the old man, too, in the Eucharist, for each believer arises again as a new man in Christ. And we anticipate here His final consummation, the still-awaited end of the present age. (p. 63)

That eschatological theme permeates these Easter day liturgies: there is the sense that in the great 50 days we are already in the eschaton, living from the End, where Love has triumphed and the song of praise rings on uninterruptedly for the aeons. The heavenly alleluias sound nearer than at any other time of the church year.

10 April 2007

Beautiful Thought

Therefore they all pray, sing, and give thanks together. There is nothing here that one has or does for himself alone. But what each has belongs to the others too.

- Blessed Martin Luther, WA 49, 600, 19 (cited in *Worship in Word and Sacrament* p. 35)

Patristic Quote of the Day

Only yesterday was I in anguish with Christ on the Cross; today am I glorified with him. Yesterday I died with Him; today I receive new life in Him. Yesterday I was buried with Him; today I arise together with Him.

--From an Easter Homily of St. Gregory Nazianzus, cited in *A Short Breviary* p. 740

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

From this, we must conclude that Christ's resurrection is not only a stone in the building of our salvation, but the keystone of it. It is not a shining jewel in the crown of our redemption, but the crown itself. Without Christ's resurrection, the world would still not be redeemed. - C. F. W. Walther, *God Grant It* p. 345

A Paschal Joy

My friend, Pr. Tim Landskroener, pointed me to this wondrous account of last Sunday's worship at Ascension Lutheran Church in Daphne, Alabama:

click here

He lives and I shall conquer death!
He lives my mansion to prepare!
He lives to bring me safely there!

08 April 2007

Beautiful Day

It was a busy and joyous day indeed. After the Sunrise Matins and the Easter Breakfast (unbelievable amounts of food!), we had the Divine Service. Not the same without our real organ, but again, not having it helped us get through our first Pascha with Marianne celebrating on the side of the Table we can no longer see. Our choirs and pianist did a great job, though, of keeping us focused and we indeed celebrated "at the Lamb's High Feast."

We came home and prepared our dinner - and Dean joined us. The pics are from that. Cindi served up tenderloin, chicken, shrimp, deviled eggs, mock potato salad (made from cauliflower), biscuits, gravy, cheeses and olives, kringle. There wasn't room on the plate for it all.

Then we engaged in a game of liverpool. Half way through, though, the old folks needed to take a break and nap - they were falling asleep at the table. We came back and finished the game while munching on cheese cake, coffee, chips, and such. The winner was Lauren Elizabeth. The rat. ;)

After Lauren and Dean left, we rested for a while, and then headed over to our neighbor's, the GeRues to enjoy some drinks and conversation. Pastor GeRue fixes a GREAT brandy slush.

All in all, a great and wonderful day. And most of all because of this: Christos anesti!!!

Images of the Day - Part 2

Images of the Day

07 April 2007

Blessed Pascha

Christos anesti!

Alithos anesti! Alleluia!

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bands
For our offenses given;
But now at God's right hand He stands
And brings us life from heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be
And sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of alleluia!

No son of man could conquer death,
Such ruin sin had wrought us.
No innocence was found on earth,
And therefore death had brought us
Into bondage from of old
And ever grew more strong and bold
And held us as its captive.

Christ Jesus, God's own Son, came down,
His people to deliver.
Destroying sin, He took the crown
From death's pale brow forever:
Stripped of pow'r, no more it reigns;
An empty form alone remains;
Its sting is lost forever.

It was a strange and dreadful strife
When Life and death contended;
The victory remained with Life;
The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That death is swallowed up by death,
Its sting is lost forever.

Here our true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree -
So strong His love - to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it, death passes oe'er
And Satan cannot harm us.

So let us keep the festival
To which our Lord invites us;
Christ is Himself the joy of all,
The sun that warms and lights us.
Now His grace to us imparts
Eternal sunshine to our hearts;
The night of sin is ended.

Then let us feast this Easter Day
On Christ, the Bread of heaven;
The Word of grace has purged away
The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed;
He is our meat and drink indeed;
Faith lives upon no other!

--Martin Luther, LSB 458

A New Blog

The associate pastor at St. Paul's, Hamel, and Trinity, Worden, and the Headmaster of Trinity-St. Paul Lutheran School, Pr. Keith GeRue, has taken up blogging!

click here to check it out!

Homily for Easter Divine Service 2007

Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

And so despite the lies of the discovery channel, here we are gathered today for worship - and the one we worship is the living Christ, the risen Christ, the reigning Christ.

The One we worship is the One who in unspeakable love for the human race took on flesh and blood that He might trace again the lost image of God upon us.

The One we worship is the One who in unfathomable mercy offered that flesh and blood as a holy and unblemished sacrifice to His Father.

The One we worship is the One who gave Himself into death that death might be shattered and the grave transformed.

The One we worship is the One who in the very body He once took from the Blessed Virgin now lives and reigns as the promise and foretaste of our own resurrection. He is the first fruits of those who will rise from the dead - the full harvest is yet to come!

We worship Him whom old Job saw and confessed: "I know that My Redeemer lives and at the last He will stand upon the earth and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold and not another. My heart faints within me!"

We worship Him whom St. Paul rejoiced in as our very Passover Lamb. His blood was spilled to blot out the sin of the entire world and it avails for all! And as the sign and proof of His endless love and victorious life, He now bids us feast with on Him: our Passover, at the Lamb's High Feast where we sing praise to our Victorious King who has washed us in the tide flowing from His pierced side. Alleluia.

We worship Him who sent His holy angel to announce to the Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome that He, the Crucified, would not be found in the tomb - for though He came among the dead, and visited them, giving His most pure body into the grave, the grave holds Him no longer. The stone reveals that the grave is empty - for He has come forth, and in His shining, risen, transformed and transfigured humanity He promises to go before the disciples to meet them in Galilee. Him we worship, who sent to Peter words of comfort and of hope.

For He lives and His life is our pardon.
His life is our comfort.
His life is our victory.
His life is our joy.

And the One we worship is not far from us. Though He ascended in triumph to heaven and raised our human nature to heights unimagined, He is with us still. Here at this Table, He still speaks, still blesses the bread and wine, and still gives them to us. He offers to us the very ransom price of our souls! That which was upon Golgotha offered for our release from death and the forgiveness of all our sin, now He reaches out to us. Taste and see that the Lord is good! But how good is He. For with the pledge of forgiveness, He gives to us His body and blood as the very medicine of immortality, the promise that we are joined to Him and He to us, and that death will never, never be able to hold us in its grasp, for into us has gone the Risen One's body and blood - the human being over whom death has NO control.

An ancient homily from the dawning days of the Church has our Lord call to Adam in Hades: "Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated." So does your Lord speak to you this day, He who shares forever our human nature and who in our flesh has triumphed and who feeds us now His flesh as our Paschal food.

Glory to You, O Risen One!
Glory to You, King of the angels!
Glory to You, Child of Mary and Eternal Word of the Father!
Glory to You, Resurrection and the Life!
Glory to You, Bread of Life and our great Good Shepherd!
Glory to You, with Your Unoriginate Father and Your all Holy good and life-giving Spirit!
Glory to You most blessed Trinity, now and always and unto the ages of ages! Amen.

Alleluia. Alleluia. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Something Strange

Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrows the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: "My Lord be with you all." Christ answered him: "And with your spirit." He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying, "Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."

I am your God, who for your sake has become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on a cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by the cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

--An Ancient Homily, read at Matins of Holy Saturday

06 April 2007

Liturgical Reflections

With the publication of Lutheran Service Book, two services are provided for Good Friday: the Chief Service and the Tenebrae Vespers. Today at St. Paul's both were prayed. The Chief Service was prayed at noon; the Tenebrae Vespers at 7:15 p.m. It was not a surprise that the "Chief" Service was more sparsely attended than the Vespers - we've not offered a service at noon before. Between the two services we had an attendance about 237 or so. I cannot commend highly enough the experience of the liturgies just as they are written in the book. I was a tad skeptical about a couple items, but by the time the services of Good Friday had concluded I was shown to have worried needlessly. A big thanks to the Choir of St. Paul's and to our pianist Diane Schrader for bringing us to the Cross in adoration and praise.

O Darkest Woe

[the translation of stanzas 2-7 are copyrighted by my friend, Dr. Joseph Herl. I trust he will not sue me if I share them with you]

O darkest woe!
Ye tears, forth flow!
Has earth so sad a wonder?
God the Father's only Son
Now is buried yonder.

O sorrow dread!
Our God is dead,
Upon the cross extended.
There His love enlivened us
As His life was ended.

O child of woe!
Who struck the blow
That killed our gracious Master?
"It was I" thy conscience cries,
"I have wrought disaster."

Thy Bridegroom dead!
God's Lamb has bled
Upon thy sin forever,
Pouring out His sinless self
In this vast endeavor.

Such innocence!
His countenance
A fount of faith undying!
Worlds on worlds cannot contain
Grief at Him here lying.

O Virgin's Son!
What Thou hast won
Is far beyond all telling:
How our God, detested, died,
Hell and devil felling.

O Jesus Christ,
Who sacrificed
Thy life for lifeless mortals:
Be my life in death and bring
Me to heaven's portals!

(Original text by Friedrich von Spee and Johann Rist, LSB 448)

Homily for Tenebrae Vespers 2007

Is there any darkness as dark as death? I remember when my father was dying, he did not want the lights turned out in his room. He wished for it to be left on always. Then he could sleep a bit more peacefully. But, of course, in the end, the lights will go out and darkness will come. How often the Scriptures describe our plight, then, as “those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.” Death’s shadow stretches over us, chills us, frightens us.

But tonight we celebrate that into that Darkness which we will all have to face, there once went Him who is the Light of Light, and whom no darkness can overcome. Into Death went Life.

Death is separation. The separation of the soul and body, tearing apart that which God created to be together forever. And He went into that: our Lord Jesus. His body, forever joined to His divinity and so incorruptible, was severed from His soul, forever joined to His divinity and so incorruptible. Let there be no shadow of doubt in your mind this night: He really died. So no funny stuff with the candle going out and coming back in. No. That last candle will just be put out. Death is real, and He really experienced for us all, tasted is for us all.

Nor did He taste only death. He also went and slept in our grave. There is the dying of the light when our eyes can no longer see light, but close in death. Then there is the dying of the light when light no longer even shines upon our bodies, but they are closed into the darkness.

My father did not want the light turned off in his room because he knew that death was no far off, and that soon there would be darkness everywhere. He would no longer see and darkness would finally cut off even the light that shone on His body. But do you see why the Lord Jesus does what He does tonight? He brings into the darkness the dazzling light of His divinity, uses his human nature’s death to bring into death itself the very end of death, and so to transform forever how we will look and think about our death.

You’re dying. Me too. Our life will not endure forever. Some of us in this room may be dead within the month, the year, the decade. But we gather tonight to celebrate that we can walk into this darkness now without fear. We gather to celebrate that our Lord Jesus has gone ahead of us, and has transformed this hideous and awful thing, this falling apart of God’s creature. He has made death be “a little sleep.” Just as we need not fear our beds at night, and shutting our eyes and letting the darkness envelop us, so little do we need to fear the coming of the darkness of death and the grave. Why do we not fear sleeping? Because we know that after a time of refreshing slumber, we will rise and see the morning light and be glad.

So is our death and our grave now. Jesus, who accomplished the salvation of mankind on the cross and cried out: “It is finished!” also willed to taste death for us and thus to sanctify our very graves by laying in one Himself. He shows us that we have nothing to fear. Let the darkness come: the end of this world is not darkness, but Light. Not hatred, but Love. Not fear, but Peace. Not despair, but Hope. Tonight, odd as it seems to the world, we celebrate the Triumph of God when Love Incarnate was laid in a tomb.

Lo, Jesus goes into your death, and into your grave and He will meet you there, and bring you from that death and from that grave to a life that never ends, for He is truly the Resurrection and the Life and to Him be the glory and the dominion with His Father and His all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Arise. Let us go to meet the darkness. Amen.